June’s Missed Opportunity of the Month

Columbus, as recent estimates show, is clearly becoming a real player on the national stage in terms of its rapid growth and increasing name recognition. There’s a lot to be proud of for a city located in what many people think is just the Rust Belt. But as with every city, Columbus doesn’t get it all right all the time. A while back, I wrote how Columbus could sometimes be a city of missed opportunities when it came to development, and that remains true. For every great project in the Short North, there’s an equally terrible development going up somewhere else. In what I want to be a semi-regular series, I’m going to highlight some projects that simply miss the boat in terms of good urban development. Some are merely not reaching their potential, and then some, like today’s example, is an out of left field example that seems to be trying so hard, only to fail equally so.

That project is the redevelopment of the University City strip mall off of Olentangy River Road.

Aerial view.

As you can see from the aerial, the site is your typical strip mall. Built in 1961 when such developments were seen as community shopping destinations rather than the dying suburban sprawl they have become, University City is completely nondescript and looks no different than hundreds of others dotting the landscape. Anchored by a Kroger, the strip mall held other stereotypical establishments- a salon, bars, a Chinese restaurant, etc. A handful of out lots contain a McDonald’s, gas station and a bank.

Most of the site, of course, is taken up by enormous amounts of surface parking, most of which sits empty more often than not.

Olentangy River Road is not exactly an urban street. Most of it is lined with hotels, restaurants and offices, all set well back from the road and in a generally unfavorable configuration to encourage walkability. So when it was announced back in June of last year that the strip mall would be redeveloped, hope for something substantially different seemed possible. The initial renderings showed a 6-story mixed-use building on the site instead of the strip mall.

MUCH better, right? Of course, saying it’s much better is a low bar compared to the current situation, but a 6-story, mixed-use project is truly urban, and one of the first of its kind on Olentangy River Road. So why, one might ask, is this a missed opportunity?
To answer that, we have to look at the proposed layout of the entire site.

Comparing the proposed layout to the current one is a little confusing, because they look extremely similar. It seems that the 6-story project will only replace the current strip center, but most of the parking and all of the out lots will remain intact. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of suburban and urban elements that just looks really weird. There is no interaction with any of the nearby roads, and not even a resident pathway from the main building to the multi-use path that was built a few years ago along Olentangy. It’s all still catering to cars.
In the most recent rendering of the main building, seen below, there appears to be only 1 patio space for what is clearly a very large project. The view for customers from there, of course, is still just the parking lot, with its noise, pollution and lack of any shade. In fact that’s basically the view out of every window in the building- parking lots.

I suppose that some surface lots and outbuildings could eventually be redeveloped at some point, but as it stands now, there’s a lot to be desired. The main building is decent, but the overall layout and connections are terrible and it makes the whole project just look like a much larger version of the strip mall that’s already there. Maybe that’s a harsh assessment, but I don’t think it’s an unfair one. Casto, the developer, basically invented the strip mall, so they’re clearly playing to their strengths here. They’ve done some really good projects at times, like the renovation of the Julian building on South Front Street in Downtown, and I applaud the effort to go more urban in this location, but I think so much could’ve been done better in this case. No doubt that this development will have no trouble finding tenants to rent the apartments, just due to the lack of housing anywhere in the core, but I question just what this development offers that better ones don’t.

In the end, it is a good example of how Columbus needs more true urban developers that are comfortable and willing to push the envelope on this style of development. Trying to have it both ways, where suburbia reigns in an urban location, gets us nowhere.

Failed Project #2- Gay/Front City Office Tower

Beginning in 1984 and continuing into 1985, a parking garage/city office project was being tossed around to house an increasing number of city office works. Space had become tight and many existing buildings were more than 50 years old and required extensive renovations. The Daimler Group started construction on the 10-story garage part of the project at the southeast corner of W. Gay and N. Front in late 1984. The 16-story office project that would’ve been built on top (for a total 26-story building) was just one of 3 options the city was considering to alleviate its office problems. The other two options consisted of a $75 million civic center about a block north of City Hall, or simply renovating the existing buildings.

In the end, it was deemed that there were too many other problems to spend public dollars on. At the time, there was quite an issue with road maintenance funding, and the city deemed that it was not the right time to build a brand new tower for city workers. By April 1985, the project was dead, although the garage was finished and remains to this day.

The garage in 2015.

Ironically, within a few years, the city would have several much larger office towers. 5 new towers were built between 1986 and 1991, though not all were specifically built for city offices. Renovation of existing buildings has been ongoing since.

Read up on more failed projects here:
Big Darby Creek Reservoirs
1984-1985 High Street Road Diet
Ohio’s Atom Collider

OSU’s Major Housing Project

Ohio State University has been engaged in long-term housing improvements on its campus for a few years now, and is set to begin the next and largest phase to date.

The first phase along W. 11th Avenue, called the South Campus High Rise Renovation and Addition Project, is nearing completion. The $171 million project began in 2010 and focused on Stradley, Smith, Park, Steeb and Siebert Halls. The residential buildings, which were all constructed between 1957 and 1960, would see major changes.

-New 12-story additions would connect Park with Stradley and Steeb to Smith.
-10-story Siebert Hall would receive a major renovation.

Rendering of the additions between Park/Stradley and Steeb/Smith.

In addition to the building additions, air conditioning, new elevators, lobbies and other improvements were made. The air conditioning was provided by drilling 450 geothermal wells. The additions would bring an additional 360 student beds.

Also renovated and added to was the William H. Hall housing complex at W. 11th and Worthington Street. Opened in August 2012, the building added 530 new beds.

The South Campus High Rise Renovation and Addition Project will ultimately add about 900 new student beds, but this is a far cry from the project just beginning along Lane Avenue.

Announced around the same time as SCHRRAP, the North Campus Residential District Project began just this past week. This project focuses on the large cluster of dorms and other buildings at the southwest corner of N. High Street and W. Lane Avenue. Most were built in the 1960s and 1970s and look it.

North Campus area 2013

The image above shows how the area looks currently. As the key says, the buildings in red are scheduled to be demolished. The road that goes through the complex, Curl Drive, is also scheduled to be removed.

The image above shows the first phases of construction through Spring 2014. As you can see, there will be 3 main areas of construction during this period.

-A new dorm will be constructed at the southeast corner of W. Lane and Neil Avenues. This area is currently a surface parking lot.
-Scott Hall will be demolished and the site will be replaced with a much larger building.
-Raney Commons will be demolished, and site preparation will take place for new buildings, as well as removing Curl Drive and other infrastructure.
-Once site preparation is complete, 3 new dorm buildings will be constructed at the corner of N. High and W. Lane.

The last image above shows the final phase of construction, from Fall 2015 to Summer 2016. During this period, several changes take place.

-4 row homes along W. Lane will be demolished, as well as North Commons, Houck, Blackburn and Nosker Halls, the Royer Student Activities building and the Jones Pool.
-5 new buildings will be built in this area, as well as new addtions to Taylor, Jones and Drackett Halls.
-A central pedestrian corridor will be completed through the entire complex.
-High and Lane will be landscaped, and park spaces will be created throughout.

Final Project Renderings

In the end, 3,200 new beds will be created in the $370 million project. This will drastically change the look and feel of this area, and will continue to add density to the campus area, already Columbus’ most dense.

2012 Development Projects Completed

Major Projects Completed in 2012

1. Downtown Hilton Hotel
This was a 12-story, 532 room hotel built on a surface lot directly across from the Columbus Convention Center. It was built at a cost of about $150 million and took about 18 months to complete. Along with the hotel, a glass skywalk was added connecting the hotel to the convention center. Here is the link to their website that contains rate information along with a photo gallery: http://www.hiltoncolumbusdowntown.com/default-en.html

2. Nationwide’s Office Building
Built at the corner of North Front and West Nationwide Blvd on a surface lot, this was a $26 million, 5-story office building built to allow Nationwide to bring back 1,000 workers from the suburbs. Along with the building, a pocket park with paths was installed connecting High Street with the building. Follow the construction of this building here: http://www.columbusunderground.com/forums/topic/nationwide-building-5-story-office-building-at-front-and-nationwide

3. Columbus Casino
This $400 million casino was built on the former Delphi Plant site at West Broad and Georgesville Road. It is the largest casino in Ohio and opened in October. Find out more here: http://www.hollywoodcolumbus.com/

4. Nationwide Children’s Hospital Expansion
The hospital added a 12-story tower along with a parking garage and research center along Parsons Avenue just outside of Downtown. The $840 million project allowed NCH to become the 2nd largest pediatrics center in the country. Follow its construction here: http://www.columbusunderground.com/forums/topic/nationwide-childrens-hospital-news-discussion

5. Rich Street Bridge
The new Rich Street Bridge replaced the one on Town Street. It was the second new bridge to span the Scioto River after the Main Street Bridge opened in 2011. Both connect Downtown to Franklinton. The $32 million bridge opened in July.

Failed Project #1- 1985- Ohio’s Atom Collider

In a (hopefully) ongoing series, I want to highlight Columbus city and metro projects that were proposed but never materialized in reality. Some of the ideas were awesome, while others were doomed from the start. In the first installment, I’m highlighting a project that was both awesome and doomed.

On August 9, 1985, the Columbus Dispatch ran an article about an “atom tunnel” to be located underneath parts of Delaware, Marion, Morrow and Union counties. This 60-100 mile long tunnel was to be one of the first of its kind, an early version of the Hadron Collider in Europe. The $3 billion dollar tunnel was to be buried 200 feet down and be about 10 feet in diameter. Ohio was not the only state vying for the project, but Ohio was considered to be near the top of the list. Ohio would’ve had to spend $66 million to get the site ready, anchored by a 5,000 acre project laboratory in Delaware County. The project, expected to bring 3,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs, was expected to put the state at the forefront of scientific research.

This project largely failed for one reason: The Reagan Administration. Though the Department of Energy and the science community wanted this and other science advancements funded, it never went through, so the funding never became available. Instead, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) took the lead and built the now famous Large Hadron Collider, from 1998 to 2008. While Ohio’s “atom tunnel” would by now be far outdated, who knows what kind of research and technological advancement, even to this day, would’ve taken place under the Columbus metro’s northern counties.

Take a look at other failed projects here:
Gay/Front Office Tower
Big Darby Creek Reservoirs
1984-1985 High Street Road Diet